Ngāti Whawhakia, Ngāti te Wehi, Ngāti Punjabi, Ngāti Pākehā
"The programme was inclusive from a cultural standpoint – I believe multiculturalism is vital for basic human interaction, cross-pollination of ideas and innovation."
Bachelor of Science in Management Science
Masters in Engineering Management
PhD in Māori Entrepreneurship
Summer Startup Programme 2015/16
Entré $75K Challenge 2013
CEO, Kōkewa Ventures
Project Coordinator, Te Tapuae O Rehua
How did you find the Summer Startup Programme?
I found it hugely helpful. The programme was inclusive from a cultural standpoint – I believe multiculturalism is vital for basic human interaction, cross-pollination of ideas and innovation. I dabble in both the for-profit and social enterprise spaces, so it was great to spend time with a range of very diverse experts. Many of the guest speakers offered thought provoking presentations and I found myself questioning and testing their ‘way of doing’ with my own values. This reaffirmed for me that not every investor or mentor is going to be a good fit for you or your business, and that’s ok. It was really important for me to feel comfortable about where I come from, the things that drive me and how that influences what I do in business.
What project were you working on in the Summer Startup Programme and how did it help?
My agenda was multifaceted. I was here on behalf of Yoga in Schools, as a student of entrepreneurship and generally enterprising individual and. We were able to bounce ideas off experts to ensure that we covered all bases and that the business was ready to go to market in term 1. We got a lot of value out of information relating to IP protection, small business accounting and potential avenues for funding/investment. Making sure that we could answer all of the hard questions Rachel would fire at us was unbelievably helpful. We pulled together a lean business model and strategy which has proven invaluable when bidding for investment. Pitch practice was really effective not just for overcoming public speaking fears, but also for simplifying or removing all the ‘noise’ from conversations and proposals. Overall, I think the UCE summer programme helped the business to progress simply by having someone available to answer questions around the legalities of business.
Where is Yoga in Schools now?
Yoga in Schools is going strong. The programme is currently being implemented in seven schools and Letesha’s expertise is being requested from kura all over New Zealand. Yoga in Schools is about to launch a Yoga Warriors initiative which will reach out to whānau in Ōtautahi. These classes facilitate an intergenerational learning environment, allowing parents, grandparents and children to prioritise and engage in physical, mental and spiritual exercise together.
What is your most memorable moment from the Programme?
Definitely the final pitch. I am not the greatest public speaker and I was very nervous, but the support leading up to that final day and the satisfaction I felt after was unforgettable.
What advice would you give to other Māori students considering starting up their own venture or considering applying for the Summer Startup Programme?
Give it a go. Be confident in who you are and the values that you hold. I don’t think it matters too much whether your motivations for business are for-profit or not, by being part of this kind of learning environment you pick up skills and life lessons for navigating the future of enterprise. UCE is hugely supportive and diverse, and it was quite evident from the others that were part of the programme that social enterprise is on the rise. There’s something really powerful about having a social purpose drive your business and it was neat to see this being embraced by the majority.
What are you working on now?
I have been wanting to set up my own business for a while now. Back in 2013 I was an entré finalist for something totally different. In the meanwhile I’ve kept busy and waited for the stars to align, that is opportunity recognition, resource availability, and personal interest to build a business. So, Kōkewa Ventures is up and running, and I also have a job. I am still involved with Yoga in Schools here and there and am working on my PhD too. Kōkewa Ventures allows me to practice what I research in the context of my own business. I feel it gives me more credibility in the business world as a student/academic and vice versa.
What is Kōkewa Ventures?
Kōkewa Ventures provides Māori business facilitation and strategic support. Kōkewa is a spin off from my research on the social context of Māori entrepreneurship where I have been investigating the networks and support systems that are required for Māori enterprise to do well. It is hugely rewarding working with other Māori businesses in the region.
What do you find interesting or cool about what you do?
I find it interesting that we undervalue the innovation potential locked at the nexus of culture and technology but I think the opportunities that come from that are pretty cool. I think I’m lucky - I get to work with some cool people on some mean projects solving some wicked problems.
What did you do with entré in 2013?
TempME was a business idea that intended to align temp workers and individuals with spare time with odd jobs around Christchurch. We got into the Top 10 Qualifiers in what was then the $75K Challenge. We decided not to pursue the business idea and put our energy into other opportunities (more information).
What does a typical day look like for you?
As a PhD student, kaimahi and an entrepreneur I’ve had to learn to manage my time, which I admit I’m still not very good at. No two days are ever the same, and that suits me. Building and maintaining relationships with other organisations in the community is probably the most consistent activity.
So you are also employed, on top of everything else that you are doing?
Yes, as kaimahi at Te Tapuae o Rehua my role is to improve Māori ICT outcomes through collaborative action. This involves connecting and facilitating community and iwi-led initiatives, mobilising and focusing community resources, aligning ICT initiatives with tribal aspirations as well as pathway planning for Māori into STEM subjects, and ICT qualifications, employment and enterprise.
What other jobs have you had previously?
I guess I have always been one to float between jobs. Recently I did some research and tutor work with the suave Maui Labs team and management department. Prior to that I worked in the oil and gas, and manufacturing sectors to put my Masters and Bachelor qualifications into practice; and in another life I was an RA and a waitress.
What are you aspirations for the future?
First and foremost, I want to finish my thesis. I think my partner and supervisors would be proud to hear me say that. I have ambitions to grow the technical arm of Kōkewa and facilitate the creation of pathways for Māori into ICT.